Vaccines to tackle new strains of coronavirus could be created for laboratory testing in just three weeks, a leading scientists has said.
Professor Robin Shattock, who is leading Covid-19 vaccine research at Imperial College London, said scientists are working on vaccines which could counter new variants like the one that emerged in South Africa.
After being redesigned for lab testing, it could take two to three months to get the vaccines to the manufacturing stage, he added.
Prof Shattock told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Vaccine researchers around the world to looking at these new variants and making new vaccine candidates against them so we can study in the laboratory.
“And that’s quite a fast process – we can go from seeing these changes to making a new vaccine in the laboratory in a period of about three weeks.
“We have one already and we’re starting to look at the immune response to that to see whether it makes it more effective against, for example, a South African strain, but also to see whether it can modulate the immune response from somebody who’s already had a vaccine to make it more effective as a booster to target these variants as they arise.
“We can we can make these vaccines in the lab in a three-week process but then to actually get them manufactured, that would take two to three months to get to the manufacturing stage and into the clinic – that’s still quite fast.
“And we need to remember that more changes may occur but these vaccines won’t go from working well to not working at all. So a three-month period to provide an update and develop a boosting strategy is quite effective.”
Prof Shattock said a new vaccine could be developed as an “annual booster”, adding: “That’s an update that then makes the immune response effective against new variants that may arise between now and later in the year.”
He said scientists at Oxford University are already working on vaccines that are effective against new variants.
If there is a need to adapt vaccines to tackle new strains then different technologies would take different timeframes to develop as some are more “complex”.
“If there is a change and a need to bring something new in, we’ll probably see a similar race and different technologies will get there with different timeframes,” he added.